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Blumenthal roundtable tackles gun violence, community intervention

The Day - 6/20/2022

Jun. 21—Sen. Richard Blumenthal and anti-gun violence advocates met Monday to discuss violence intervention strategies during a roundtable discussion at the Hartford Public Library.

Blumenthal hosted the discussion in an attempt to find community solutions to gun violence as well as to offer an update on a bipartisan gun control bill in the Senate.

Last week, Blumenthal and Sen. Chris Murphy touted the bipartisan framework that led to agreement on a gun control bill while cautioning that there are still hurdles to clear before the legislation is signed into law.

Blumenthal said that he had a conference call scheduled for Monday afternoon with the participants in the bipartisan Senate negotiations. He said the senators are trying to get the framework "on paper into text so that we can pass it as early as this week."

"We have a framework that is a very positive step forward if we can pass it," Blumenthal said. "It is way short of what I wanted and what is necessary. We know that it is a step forward and a continuing effort. It will save lives. To me that's the critical factor."

Negotiations in the bill are in flux right now, with disagreements between Democrats and Republicans regarding how far each aspect of the bill should go.

The bill is expected to include federal funding to build red flag laws, which are meant to keep weapons away from people who've been determined by a court to be a danger to themselves or others. The bill would close the "boyfriend loophole," which allows men who are convicted of assault against their girlfriend to continue to buy weapons. (Spouses are no longer allowed to buy weapons in similar cases.) The bill also includes the requirement of a more rigorous background check for buyers under 21 years old. It would include a federal prohibition on gun trafficking, as well as straw purchasing, which is when someone who is able buys a gun for someone else who would fail a background check, for example. And it will include an update to background check statutes to "make sure everyone involved in the repeated sale of firearms has to perform background checks," Murphy said last week.

The legislation will also include billions of dollars to enhance mental health and school security throughout the country.

"It'll include hundreds of millions of dollars to support red flag statutes and other crisis intervention programs," Blumenthal said of the bill. "It will improve the background check system, it'll provide billions of dollars of funding for mental health and school safety. In a number of other areas it will reflect real progress such as closing the boyfriend loophole in our present law. But to come right to the point for these organizations, I hope it will mean a lot of money for community violence intervention, because we know it works. We know it can help stem and stop gun violence."

The advocates who gathered on Monday said they appreciated Blumenthal's call to invest in violence intervention programs.

The Rev. Henry Brown, a Hartford activist, said he'd been in the city and seen 1,500 shootings in the last 20 years.

"And I'm glad to hear finally that there's some resources coming down through this community. The quality of life we have here in our neighborhood is so distant from anybody else," he said.

Brown was not the only advocate to bring up how a lack of financial resources can lead to violence.

Carl Hardrick of the Brother Carl Hardrick Institute, a gun violence prevention and intervention organization in Hartford, said, "We're out here struggling. Over here, we don't get the resources they get."

He criticized the practice of incarceration, which costs the state money, saying it will spend money on incarceration, "But we won't invest that in community organizations that are doing the work."

The state legislature passed mental health and criminal justice measures this spring, but Republican legislators pushed back on proposed gun control measures during the session. One of Gov. Ned Lamont's proposals, which was pared down would have created a statewide community violence intervention program.

There is language in the budget bill passed this past session that funds a Commission on Community Gun Violence and Prevention in the State Department of Public Health at $400,000. The budget also includes about $3 million for anti-gun violence programs.

New London community intervention advocates said in the spring that they hoped the state would fund existing programs.

Jackie Santiago Nazario, the CEO of Compass Youth Collaborative, described the kind of work her organization does.

"We are thankful to be able to hire peace builders in the community — people who formerly offended that have lived experience and now have turned their lives around," she said Monday. I'm proud to say none of them have recidivated ... that's part of what drives long-term change in the community. The fact that we have people out there that understand the story, have walked the same path as these youth and are now dedicating their lives to transforming other lives."


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